News / Asia

India's Bootleg Liquor Exacts Human Toll

A man buys illegal "country liquor," also known as "hooch," in Allahabad, India, Dec. 15, 2011.
A man buys illegal "country liquor," also known as "hooch," in Allahabad, India, Dec. 15, 2011.
TEXT SIZE - +
Kurt Achin

Police in India's West Bengal state say they have arrested a key figure responsible for distributing poisonous homemade alcohol that killed scores of people last year.

Illegal alcohol is a widespread problem in India, where it offers short-term relief from life's hardships, but takes a heavy toll on health.

Habibul Gazi, for example, will never be able to see again. Doctors say his optic nerves have been irrevocably damaged by consuming illegally produced toxic alcohol.

"I asked him to stop drinking, but he never listened," says his distraught wife via translator, explaining that he beat her during arguments about drinking. Now, she says, her family is ruined.

Class and caste

The notion of moderate social drinking has taken root primarily among India's elite and emerging wealthy classes. But in areas where life is much harder, so is the drinking.

The government taxes alcohol heavily, in part to discourage binge consumption. But former tax official Bijay Chakrabarty says the high taxes only drive many people to consume the so-called "hooch."

"Now a poor man cannot afford licit liquor when hooch is available at such a cheap price," he says. "Moreover, licit liquor is available only at fixed places licensed by government, whereas hooch liquor [has] no fixed place. At every nook and corner of a village or a town you can have it."

Small illegal hooch-producing operations are numerous and often spring up just as quickly as they are swept away.

Makers of hooch, also called "country liquor," use a very crude distillation process that can leave a lot of impurities in the final product. They sometimes add chemical extenders, even fuel products, that can produce deadly consequences.

In December, headlines abounded with reports of at least 150 people dying in West Bengal after consuming illegal liquor laced with methanol.

Many ordinary Bengalis, like school teacher Hasanuzzaman Mollah, are skeptical of government promises to crack down on the country liquor industry.

"Many hooch joints are running in front of police stations, right in front of police," he says via translator. "They even get support from police in their illegal dealings."

Indian officials hope to convince more of its poorer citizens that the attraction of alcohol that costs only pennies can carry a very high human cost.

But for Saharun Bibi, whose husband earned a modest income as a tailor before he was killed by homemade liquor, government efforts are too little and too late.

"My husband left nothing to help raise our eight children," she says via translator, adding that she is clueless about how to marry off her daughters and feed the family.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid